Thursday, May 9, 2013

Punk Goes Uptown

Duchamp would be proud. Facsimile of CBGB's bathroom ca. 1975, now at the Met Museum.
The Met Museum Costume Institute's big spring fashion show opens May 9 and runs through August 14—Punk: Chaos to Couture. No big surprise, but any expectations of an authentic experience should be adjusted upward and toward the trés chic. You'll see how the trappings of punk infiltrated haute couture. The incongruous presence of a "facsimile" of CBGB's infamous bathroom is a superficial attempt by the Met to connect with punk's baseline. Perhaps if it were open to use and functioned (or better yet, didn't)—it might make sense. It's even more alien than when the now defunct Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame branch on Mercer Street exhibited a CBGB building fragment.

John Lydon, 1976. Courtesy Met Museum.
Photo: Ray Stevenson/Rex USA
Junya Watanabe, fall/winter 2006—7, courtesy
Met Museum. Photo: Catwalking 

In any case, apart from some opening references to the roots of punk, where original items can be seen along with their high fashion inspirations (see John Lydon's sweater) curator Andrew Bolton's show pretty much sticks to its theme: street-inspired couture with a whole lot of black with shiny silver stuff—studs, safety pins, zippers. Substitute sequins and rhinestones for hardware and you're halfway there. A variety of dishwater dirty T-shirts treated with scissors and silkscreened or imprinted with defiant slogans or images. Leather. Handknit sweaters. Pleather. Slashes. Slits. Asymmetry. Off-the-shoulder. Patched togetherness. Painted fabric. Spiky hair in pink or black. A general sense, sometimes false, of outré. 

Vivienne Westwood, Malcolm McLaren, Zandra Rhodes, and Katharine Hamnett are amply represented, and there are forays into street style by elegant houses such as Dior, Chanel, and Calvin Klein, and by less expected names such as Ann Demeulemeester and Miuccia Prada. Videos consume walls but are difficult to see at a close distance. Dark lighting and lots of shiny surfaces amplify the "house of horrors" feel. A series of DIY rooms underscore the ad hoc nature of the style, touching on "hardware," "bricolage," "graffiti/agitprop," and "destroy." And of course, music sets the tone, by The Ramones, Richard Hell, John Gosling, The Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Debby Harry, and others. The show acknowledges these roots, but the dissonance between rebellion and couture is even louder than the music.

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